Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Hairnet (ILA 10)


  In order for you to understand the effect of ILAs and their unanticipated suspension on our business, you should understand our basic revenue streams. We have two training arms: Business training and Domestic training.

    —  Business training (on-site training for companies) did/does not generally make use of ILAs and does not really come into this debate at all.

    —  Domestic training—by that we mean home-visit training delivered to the general adult population on an individual basis by outreach Hairnet trainers. This side of the business made extensive use of the ILA Scheme. From January 2001 to October 2001 1,856 Hairnet students gained IT skills with an ILA.

    —  The Domestic training operates through a "licence scheme." People over 50 (and talented younger applicants) selected on strength of CV; then interviewed; then Police Access cleared; then vouched for by references, are trained by Hairnet to become trainers. They pay us to join and for their initial induction training. They pay to use our materials. They pay us a set fee every month to stay in our network. We support, monitor and evaluate them. We update their training, for example, to get them accredited to teach and test ECDL. They benefit from the association with the Hairnet brand and from our reputation as decent trainers. Hairnet trainers make all the money from their training: they do not pass a percentage back to us.

    —  Hairnet was begun in 1997.

    —  Hairnet was accepted as a learning provider to ILA Scheme in January 2001.


  In a word, excellent. It gave adults "learning currency" to spend as they saw fit. Specifically:

    —  While the financial incentive was obvious, there was also a huge psychological incentive—older learners were pleased that the Government wanted to include them in the "information age." People felt encouraged to better their skills and acquire new ones. People "approved" of the DfES's commitment to lifelong learning for people of all ages and backgrounds.

    —  ILAs enabled Hairnet to get 1-2-1, home-visit IT training to those who for physical, psychological, geographical, social or economic reasons would not have been able to have IT training.

    —  90 per cent of those Hairnet students who used ILAs did more learning than they would have done without one.

    —  We cannot tell you with great accuracy what percentage of students would never have learnt if they had not had an ILA because this was not data we ever thought to collate. We would, having studied our records which include feedback from each students about their training, estimate that the figure could be as high as 70 per cent.


  Hairnet head office managed all ILA transactions. Hairnet trainers would send their students' signed ILA enrolment forms to us and we would put the details through the ILA website. We would then pay "back" the trainer for the training. Pre collapse of the scheme, ILA centre staff generally helpful and efficient. Website for processing numbers easy to use. We had one member of office staff dedicated to the processing of ILAs.

23 October 2001—December 7 set as end date

    —  We increased staff hours so that all outstanding ILA registrations would be complete by start December.

    —  ILA website slows down dramatically—taking some 30-40 minutes to process just one claim (which previously took 2/3 minutes).

    —  ILA website crashes often and is therefore completely out of action.

24 November 2001—December 7 deadline abandoned

    —  We have 392 enrolments we were unable to process by the original 7 December deadline, which equates to about £25,000 of lost training.

    —  This equates to over £13,000 of training already or since delivered.

    —  Losses incurred directly by Hairnet trainers.

22 January 2002

    —  We still have not been paid over £13,000 for training delivered up to 23 November.

    —  The above losses are incurred directly by Hairnet trainers, who have long since actually delivered the training and are out of pocket.


On Students

  1.  January 2002—70 per cent down on student enrolments from September 2001.

  2.  Note that January is usually a very good month in the training business, which is seasonal; it has the impetus of back to school/start of the new year feelings.

On Trainers

  1.  January 2002—Hairnet recruitment of new trainers, which take place every month, down 20 per cent in January and 50 per cent February onwards.

  2.  Over the last year, 70 per cent of those joining Hairnet as a new trainer used ILAs to fund their induction training.

  3.  Over the last year, 95 per cent of established Hairnet trainers who chose to do their ECDL training did so using an ILA to cover some of the costs.


    (a)  Hairnet head office Managing lack of news October/November 2001

    —  We have no quarrel with a non-functioning system being closed down and cleaned up. But news about end dates, changed end dates, new schemes, monies owed is so lacking, or so unclear, as to make it useless. Because we were trying to feed back news to the rest of our network, who were all anxious and who all lost money. It put a huge strain on our head office staff.

    —  To the end of December 2001 we estimate managing the news and non-news surrounding the ILA Debacle cost us 3.5 months of staff time.


    —  To October 2001, ILAs increased our annual turnover by about 40 per cent from same period in 2000. We predicted that increase would rise again in 2002 inflating our turnover even further. Three years worth of business plans were built around predictions made on past performance and relying on market conditions resulting from ILAs. These plans are now pretty worthless.

    —  The situation would be much more manageable if we knew when and how the much talked about—but hitherto fantasy—successor scheme is to be introduced. The lack of plan with dates and timetable compounds the tension and difficulty for training businesses. The term "cast iron" (as in the oft-repeated "cast-iron" promise given by DfES spokespersons) is not recognised by most spreadsheet applications.

    —  Given these facts, it is absolutely infuriating and more than that insulting to be told that what has happened and what is not happening to our balance sheets is nothing to do with the Government but wholly our responsibility as learning providers who decided to join the Scheme.


    —  ILAs changed ideas about the value of IT training. Before ILAs, adult learners choosing Hairnet training knew that home-visit 1-2-1 training would have a cost that exceeded that of learning at local college's subsidised classes. Learners made that choice. ILAs distorted the price issue because 10 hours training in your own home could actually cost as little as £25. The public's perception of value has therefore been distorted and in that regard Hairnet is worse off than before ILAs, although providing a much needed service!

    —  The reputation of IT learning providers has suffered: because the ILA story is so complicated and the general public is under the impression that IT trainers are a motley bunch, fraudulent and untrustworthy. While DfES will say it has sent letters to all ILA holders explaining the situation, we still took calls from people who thought we had somehow stolen their money for learning grants.

    —  As a rather different IT training company whose business is to take training to people and places others can't reach, we have lost some faith in the Government's (1) genuine commitment to lifelong learning and (2) ability to actually deliver, (3) ability to stick to its promises. Working with Government to reach Government objectives should not be a gamble.

    —  As a small business, and as entrepreneurs, we have lost some faith in the Government's commitment to stimulating and supporting home-grown business. We don't expect Government handouts, but neither do we expect to be duped when working with Government.


  Hairnet was founded and is fronted by Emma Solomon (31) and Caroline Lambie (28). Emma and Caroline manage all aspects of the company but their main focus is on the development and evolution of the training services.

  Emma studied modern languages at Corpus Christi, Oxford and previously worked as an editor in Madrid and as a copywriter for a web design agency in London.

  Caroline studied Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art and previously worked with a web design agency and as the part time Internet editor for Dazed & Confused magazine.

  Both Emma and Caroline have also been freelance trainers for various IT training companies and been involved with the development of course materials.

  The two began working together in 1995 and built websites for many Arts and Heritage organisations. They also continued to teach IT, in particular in a local college, and wrote materials and courses together. The idea for Hairnet was born in May 1997 when Emma and Caroline realised that many older people wanted to "catch up" with IT and that IT training and associated services focused on this niche market could become a popular and successful business.

  Five years later, both continue to interview and train all Hairnet trainers and are actively involved with the management of the trainer network believing that their personal participation and leadership is key to maintaining high standards and stimulating energy and creativity.

  As key staff members they are also engaged in raising the profile of the company, speaking at lectures and seminars, running workshops, giving press interviews and writing for other publications and organisations.

  Hairnet offices are also staffed by Peter Head, Gill Adams and Shirley Anderson—all over 50 themselves. Peter manages the network of Hairnet trainers; Gill manages publicity and builds public awareness of Hairnet within sectors such as local government, and Shirley contributes to the website as well as undertaking research activities.


January 2002

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